Finland-based startup Varjo, maker of high-end enterprise VR headsets, has built an impressive product and charted a rapid growth, seemingly similar to the early years of Oculus. Now with 150 employees and some $46 million in venture funding, Varjo is aiming to make its headset lineup more widely accessible.

After an impressive demo of Varjo’s ‘workspace’ concept earlier this month, I sat down with CEO Niko Eiden and got a glimpse of the company’s focus and heading.

To Be (a Platform) or Not to Be

Eiden told me that Varjo isn’t planning to make an ecosystem play. Rather than profiting by owning a platform and the means of content distribution (as Facebook, Valve, HTC, and others are focused on) Varjo intends to be a product company—one which primarily profits from the sale of its hardware. The company’s headsets are currently compatible with OpenVR (the foundation of SteamVR), and every Varjo headset includes SteamVR Tracking built in.

More Affordable Headsets for a Broader Appeal

Image courtesy Varjo

Even among enterprise-focused headsets, Varjo’s are expensive. As the only headset on the market offering genuine retina resolution (at least in the central part of the field of view) the company at least has a truly unique differentiator which to justify the premium $5,000 pricetag for use-cases which demand visual fidelity that matches human eyesight. Even so, Varjo hopes to make its headsets more affordable in the future.

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Eiden said that Varjo’s goal is to eventually make its products affordable enough that individual employees could reasonably ask their employer for the headset—the same way they might ask their department for a high-end monitor—whereas the cost today means there generally needs to be a very specific use-case and ROI in mind, which has kept Varjo’s headsets largely in the realm of Fortune 500 companies.

Indeed, impressive companies like Volvo, Audi, Saab AB, and Siemens PLM—companies with market caps in the tens of billions of dollars—are among Varjo’s “hundreds” of customers, Eiden said. But it’s going to take a cheaper headset for Varjo to reach medium-sized businesses, and to see its vision of seamless VR enterprise workflows come to fruition.

Image courtesy Varjo

Exactly where the price will fall, Eiden didn’t say, but with HTC’s Vive Pro Eye (perhaps the most complete enterprise-focused offering out there) at $1,600, somewhere between that and $3,500 (the price of well equipped workstation PC) seems reasonable.

Startup Trajectory

Since its founding in 2016, Varjo has grown quite rapidly. Eiden confirmed the company now has some 150 employees, about half of which he said are focused on hardware, with the other half on software. Varjo has raised some $46 million to date, and Eiden told me that the company is in the midst of raising its Series C funding round with a goal in the neighborhood of $55 to $110 million.

Image courtesy Varjo

As far as a the trajectory of a VR headset startup, that puts Varjo just about in a league of its own, with the nearest comparable seemingly being Oculus itself, which, over the course of about three years, raised nearly $100 million before being acquired by Facebook in 2014. Other VR headset startups out there which come close are Pico and Pimax, though neither have amassed the same level of funding.

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Vision Driven

There’s a big question still in the air for Varjo. If the company doesn’t plan to own an ecosystem, what will differentiate its headset once others catch up with retina resolution visuals? For Eiden, the and rest of the company, the long term vision of the ‘workspace’ concept seems to be the pillar around which the company plans to ultimately build. “When we’re done, computers will look nothing like they do right now,” the company says.

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  • Xron

    Interesting, lets wait and see.

  • Kimberle McDonald

    Varjo is the gold standard. I’m very much hoping for a consumer edition.

    • What are you, their marketing staff? Gold standard? In what world??

      • Kimberle McDonald

        What are you, working for their competition? Varjo has Audi, Siemens, Volvo and Saab as clients. Evidently they see the value in it. Name me another VR/AR/MR firm with 3 major auto manufacturers using their headsets. But you can’t. You’re just a monkey flinging poo.

  • cataflic

    Time….time….we are talking about Varjo from 2,5 year ago.
    At time, Varjo was a quantum leap in vr hmd, by now we have Pimax 8kx that begins to have a resolution with a invisible sde.
    We also have microdisplays capable of render at retina ppi, it is only a matter of cpu/videocard/foveated rendering and we are just ahead of Varjo concept.

    • Charles

      The latest headsets with negligible SDE (8KX, Odyssey+, Reverb) are nice, but they’re nowhere NEAR the ideal resolution. Saying that barely eliminating SDE is optimal is like saying 480p DVD resolution is optimal for a non-VR bigscreen TV.

      • cataflic

        No, they aren’t near to perfection, but when we began talking of Varjo we had 1st oculus and vive…now we have many solution that fills all of today computing power.
        No new science, only better panels and some adjustments…smoothly following gpu power diffusion to mass market.
        Now the only thing to do is to obtain a good eye tracking to fovetead rendering …pickup a single better panel or a many combined and render the center view.
        Today it costs to much, but with 4k per eye we have 8 times the resolution that first hmds…2 years from now we’ll may have 8 times better res and the problem is solved.
        Varjo has to have that clarity now, without compromises…if they will have it in a year or more it will be no sufficient time for sell their product prior to be reach by the others.

  • Andres Velasco

    The problem with the HMD is the low FOV. With the Pimax 8k X coming out, surely not as sharp, but should be a good upgrade from current headsets and wide FOV just makes more sense for gaming. And still price wise, I just don’t see the Varjo being all that exciting.

    • Bumpy

      Wide FOVs have fish eye or warping effects. Until this problem is solved across 95% of games, I’m not really that keen about wide FOV.

      • Icebeat

        Index doesn’t have warping effect problems and has far more fov than Varjo.

    • Doon1

      I’ve owned a Pimax. Their software is buggy (an understatement) and their hardware is cheap. They need to step up their game a LOT to even be comparable to the least of the WMR manufacturers. The big guys aren’t building those super wide FOVs yet because there isn’t a machine built that can drive it. As soon as one of them do it will be Pi-who?

      • Andres Velasco

        That is not quite correct. I pretty much own all consumer HMDs. The Pimax XR which I own works well and my rig works well being a 2080ti. Regarding buggy software, they do plenty updates. I personally have not dealt with any issues. All software have bugs. Your understanding of the wide FOV is quite incorrect. Where the Wide FOV run into problems is balancing the lenses. The StarVR technically for me is the est HMD that exist. the 210 eye-tracked tech with RGB Oled is the most immersive yet.

  • Johnatan Blogins

    It’s somewhat surprising you never mention VRgineers in these articles about Varjo, as the two companies offering high end (expensive) VR hmds for the same clientele, it would be good to see a comparison of the standing of the two companies, we know one offers high fov, and the other one high res, but are they playing on the same budgets? Or is Varjo getting ahead in terms of growth?

  • Ad

    I wonder if Valve could work with them more to test out the possibilities of steamVR tracking. If I were Varjo I would invest in giving the headsets world class cameras, not for tracking but for allowing a kind of passthrough AR functionality that could let it stay integrated in AR workspaces while offering a level of quality, image, and tracking beyond anything AR will deliver for a long time.

  • Guest

    I love that RoadToVR does not censor comments, but I have to say they swallow too much market BS that comes out of these companies. Retina resolution is NOT going to be reached for many decades. The human eye is able to see one electron!

    • sebrk

      The human eye is definitely not able to see “one electron” lol

      • Chris Blackburn

        Unless we are in a sim that is showing how atoms work, then you can see one electron, maybe even a few xD

      • Doon1

        I could see one electron if I could just know where to look. ;D

  • This company won’t be around in 2 years. Their little trick with the 2nd display isn’t a game changer, it’s a cheap trick. Their products are absurdly expensive. They are blowing through money like water and don’t have any solid revenue streams.

  • Bumpy

    Bring it!

    We should be pushing VR, not catering to lowest common denominator Quest standards.

  • I’m intrigued. But I would love to know more about their idea of an affordable headset